Golden State of mind. –author unknown
There are moments where time simply stands still. In those moments a solid memory is formed…and that’s where the next song on the list comes in. “Someday” by the group Sugar Ray (released in 1999) was the soundtrack to an absolutely perfect space in time for me. As a transplant to California, I quickly learned that there’s a learning curve to navigating the Golden State lifestyle. First, practically everyone is beautiful. People dress differently in Cali and carry themselves with a lot of confidence. Next, most things costs way too much, really. And finally, driving there is a sport. Still, after a few months, I finally felt like I was finding my way. This was home.It’s hard not to love California…amazing scenery and that salty, ocean smell. I recall driving on the 101, windows rolled down, the rolling hills of Marin County in the background when this song came on the radio. A song about having no regrets, a song about believing in the choices you have made, basically a song about contentment. And that’s exactly what I felt in that moment. For whatever reason, whatever my destiny was, however my purpose on this planet worked out–I wholeheartedly knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that particular place in time. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.
Lead singer, Mark McGrath has said in interview that the group was about having fun and seeing just how far they could go. While Sugar Ray actually played a wide variety of music styles…it was their pop rock, upbeat stuff that launched the group to fame. “Someday” was a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Modern Rock Tracks, Hot 100 Airplay and on the Canadian charts, as well. The band enjoyed great success with their trademark southern California vibe.
Whenever I hear the song, I’m transplanted back to that time (I can even smell the ocean!) My life has changed a great deal since them. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had other experiences like the one that day. Today, I refer to them as “God-moments,” little assurances where I know I’m in just the right place, and I am so grateful.
UP NEXT: Song 12…”run, run lost boy….”
We age not by years, but by stories. ― Maza-Dohta
There’s a big difference between “growing up” and “growing old.” Each process garnering its own tension (and with any luck,) eventually leading to some sense of solace and peace. Still it seems that in today’s culture, “growing old” is definitely the greater evil. In fact, I listened to a podcast recently that basically laid out just how taboo aging has become (I realize the mere mention of the word “podcast” clearly ages me as well!) Let’s face it, at 40something I’m way past the “growing up” stuff. So I guess this just leaves me mired in the murkiness of “growing old.” Sigh.
Honestly though, I’m finding more happiness than heartbreak with each passing year. It’s not necessarily fun watching the wrinkles and the gray hairs appear, but mentally and spiritually I feel like I’m in a good space. A place I wouldn’t trade for being a teenager again (I’m still apologizing to my mother.) And as tempting as it sounds, going back to my college years just doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to. They say you’re only as young/old as you feel. And as a self-proclaimed “old soul,” I figure I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Still, crossing onto the other side of the BIG 4-0, I strongly believe I’ve gained some insight. While I haven’t exactly reached curmudgeon status (I’m working on it,) I certainly classify myself as “old enough to know better,” “wise enough not to fall for that” (again,) and filled with enough “I told you so” stories to write a “how-NOT-to guide.” Hopefully this makes me “M” for Mature, but more realistically, most would just rate me “O” for Old. Still, I will not be deterred. So whether you asked for it or not, let me drop a little wisdom here…because I just might know something. Perhaps even something worth sharing….
- There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed. As a kid, I hated going to sleep. I thought it was a huge waste of time. Add to that my overactive imagination, frequent nightmares, and night owl tendencies…and it becomes clear that sleep was not high on my priority list–EVER. Still, I have really come to value the power of a good night’s sleep. I especially appreciate sleeping in my own bed. To be honest, I have a really hard time sleeping anywhere else. Something about MY pillows and MY blankets. This is a safe haven. No TV in the bedroom. No scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix in bed for me. When my head hits the pillow, I’m out. Beautiful, peaceful and restorative slumber…in my own bed. I’m all about it!
- Moisturizer is your best friend. I have always made it a priority to take care of my skin. Never EVER sleeping in make-up (especially mascara!) Always wearing sunscreen (something I had to learn the hard way after acquiring a horrible sunburn while working a car wash fundraiser in high school. Ewww…blisters.) I’m a Noxema girl and a sucker for its eucalyptus scent. A family member suggested wearing night cream as well as day cream after college graduation. Great advice…I am eternally grateful (so is my skin.)
- “Respond more. React less.” Not my quote, but a great little ditty nonetheless. Basically, the idea is that we take a moment to process a situation, instead of just going off on someone. In a world where every feeling is justified for its mere existence, there is something to be said about thoughtfulness. Look, I’m not talking about being a spineless, doormat…instead let’s hash out our feelings before we broadcast them. It could save face and maybe even some stress and heartache. “When we respond, rather than react, we actually communicate from our highest principles and deepest desires. Reactions on the other hand, come straight from our most shallow anxieties and fears.” –Hal Runkel
- Be generous. It’s such a human tendency to want to keep things for ourselves. Some of us do it out of greed or maybe even fear. Others can’t let go of things because of guilt. We all have our own reasons, but I have found that generosity is its own reward. And it’s important to remember that giving isn’t necessarily limited to money either. Being generous is about a willingness to offer time, energy, attention, advice…the list could go on and on. Putting others above yourself is Biblical and a little goes along way!
- Seek out healing people and places. There’s no substitute for peace. As a twenty something I remember meeting a woman who absolutely made the hairs on my arm stand on end! She was an older woman, polite and wonderful with kids, so when this gut feeling struck…I had no real explanation for it. In fact, I felt guilty every time the feeling came on. After some time, I was able to figure out exactly what was going on. She had an energy that just didn’t jibe with mine. Her jumpy, antsy disposition made me feel anxious. Her energy level actually drained mine. It wasn’t about judgement, we remained friendly, however it was just a gentle reminder for me (all of us) to seek out people who lift us up, people who help us to be our best self, and whose company is soothing to the soul. You don’t have to be BFFs with everyone on the planet.
- Look deeply. This is a new one for me. An idea that has just become very important to me in the last year or so. You see, my kids are growing so fast. As hard as it is to believe, they actually change in some ways every single day. This is exciting and completely terrifying! They say “don’t blink” and wow, that has never been more true. The idea of looking deeply extends past my children, too. Sometimes I walk in my front door and just stare at my living room (piles of kid shoes, backpacks everywhere, bulky baseball/softball bags, etc.) and realize I am blessed. Sometimes I chase down the “deer moon” on a summer night (ask my kids about that one!) Often, I take photographs of seemingly mundane things just because I don’t want to forget the moment. If you catching me staring at you…please consider it a compliment!
- The grass is never greener. I know that’s not exactly how the idiom goes, but it’s the truth. I cannot think of one time when this has EVER panned out. I’m not into comparing myself to others. I don’t want what you have, I’m too busy to play that game. It’s not healthy and it will get you absolutely no where. Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough one. The green-eyed envy monster is for real. And it will wreck your day (and even your life) if you let it.
- You can say “no.” They never tell you this. From the time we’re babies, people are always telling us “no.” “No” you can’t have that, “no” you can’t touch that, “no” can’t do that either. But no one ever tells us that we can say “no,” too. “No” I don’t have to go along for the ride. “No” I don’t have to sacrifice my well-being and happiness just to appease you. “No” your choices don’t have to be my choices. You get the picture.
- Laugh often. I love sitcoms and comedies. I honesty live to laugh. I also have a strange sense of humor and value sarcasm. Just a look or an odd phrase will have me in giggles. “Smiling really is my favorite” (ELF.) It probably helps that I’m easily amused. Life really is too short not to spend a good chunk of it laughing. It’s a funny world we live in…seek out your own joy. And when you can’t find anything to laugh about…laugh at yourself. It’s humbling and good for the soul.
- God is everywhere. “Life in real-time is messy. The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you look at them in the rearview mirror.” Levi Lusko is the author of this quote and it has really shaped how I view the world. At 42, I already know that God is all around us…what a blessing it is to purposefully seek out His presence on a daily basis. It sounds lofty and maybe even hard to do, but it’s possible and so incredibly rewarding. The more we tune our spirit into seeking out His hand, the easier it becomes to discern His handiwork.
None of us can turn back time (although I’m willing to spend a small fortune trying-lol!) And while the world is telling us that 40 is the new 30, I’m not so sure I buy it…at least not wholeheartedly. I can’t help but think of so many who exemplify aging gracefully and I just pray that I can grab a little bit of that for myself…all labels aside (especially “O.”)
Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31
In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!
Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day. I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today. I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!) But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.
Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet. Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!) Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone. We need each other…sometimes desperately. I need you to be my eyes and ears, I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions. I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial. I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations. And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed. And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club. It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.) There’s no pre-mom exam. No age limit. No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go. Others clamor to get in. Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly. Many of us trudge through. And some of us never quite find our place. Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN. And there’s no guarantee of success in this club. There’s no real manual. No graduation. And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place. I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into. Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready. In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother. I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task. At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!
We all know that our bodies change when we have a child. Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all! While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately. Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes. What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood. The wins and the losses. The ups and the downs. I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window. Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern. What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.) Uggghhh.
So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers. Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be. I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide. Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement. Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift. I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own. And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community. You all ROCK! BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans. Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions. Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded. Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing. Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.” Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love. Thank you for including them in your family life. And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.
So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense. And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos. Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant. Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others. Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children. I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!
We truly are on each other’s team. Happy, happy Mother’s Day!
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25
Under all speech that is good for anything, there is a silence that is better…. –Thomas Carlyle
Let me start by saying that I have mad respect for public speakers. It takes a great deal of time, thought, composure, and courage to share your ideas and perspectives with audiences both large and small. It is no easy feat to step up and out into this arena, which is probably why public speaking is high on the list of our “greatest fears.” It’s one of those occurrences where we are typically happier on the receiving end and offer pity to the “poor soul” up front with a microphone. Often times though, it’s equally uncomfortable for both parties…and yet this is exactly where many of us will find ourselves this graduation season.
The whole idea causes my mind to take a stroll down memory lane. First, as a sixth grader giving a pseudo-valedictorian speech to my classmates as we prepared to advance to junior high. I can remember pouring my thoughts onto a few sheets of wide-rule notebook paper…the usual platitudes intermixed with memories of sixth grade antics. I can recall wearing my hair up (an attempt to look more sophisticated, I’m sure,) donning a flowery dress and trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly. My palms were sweaty and I hardly recognized my own voice over the loud-speaker. The event venue, a school gymnasium, seemed extra cavernous and despite the dozens of parents and family members in the audience…there were moments where I felt like I was all alone. Time passed so slowly…each second its own eternity. The whole speech couldn’t have been more than seven or eight minutes and while it concluded with applause, I always wondered if maybe they were just happy that it was done? I know I was.
Twenty plus years later, I can still see the faces of those who spoke at my high school graduation ceremony, but what they said is a complete blur. Classmates, community leaders, administrators…their mouths were moving, but I have no idea what they spoke of that day. What I can clearly remember are my sunglasses: mirrored wannabe wayfarers. We wore our graduation caps toward the back of our heads to accommodate our extra-large mall bangs and adding sunglasses (and not disturbing the bobby pins) was not easy. It was an extraordinary, bright, sunshiny day (I remember that)…and I NEEDED those sunglasses. Gathering in a long line, I remember looking at the faces all around me and realizing I didn’t know everyone’s names (a sad fact that weighs on my heart today.) Obviously, it was loud as we paraded onto the football field with music and cheering family and friends in the background, but as soon as the ceremony began I was lost in my own thoughts. Deliberately taking in the moment, I was convinced that I would never experience anything like this again. I looked for my family in the stands. I smiled at my best friends. I scoped out a cute boy. I looked at the sky…a lot. This day could never be duplicated and in some ways both the world and time stood still. There was a charge in the atmosphere (one that would eventually lead to a thunderstorm and tornado warning that night.) And while the message was lost on me, I silently prayed that the valedictorian would just keep talking. That didn’t happen. And in a blink of an eye, I found myself preparing for yet another graduation.
There’s a tradition at the University of Kansas…maybe it’s more lore than tradition…that advises students not to walk through the Campanile until graduation day. Those who choose not to heed this advice, “risk” not graduating at all. (In my mind, I equate it with dropping the “spirit stick,” like in the movie Bring It On.) If you know me, you know I wouldn’t dream of breaking tradition. While the landmark is one of my favorite places on the campus, I vowed to not pass through it until that special day. So, when it arrived, I was ecstatic. The opportunity to walk through its doors was symbolic in countless ways…a memory that I truly treasure. (I secretly relive the moment every time we visit the campus.)
The forecast called for yet another extraordinary, bright and sunshiny graduation day. (Newsflash: It’s also very humid in Lawrence, Kansas.) Thinking ahead, I decided to wear a red tank top and a pair of cut off jean shorts under my graduation gown. Not your typical graduation attire…oh well. I had a paper fish on the top of my cap (so that my grandmother could pick me out of the “sea of students” making their way down the hill.) I wore comfortable brown sandals as we walked in a procession according to major. (If I close my eyes, I’m practically there all over.) As you can imagine, a large university has an especially long ceremony. There were many, many speakers that day. We took our seats under the hot sun and fanned ourselves with the graduation handout. I remember thinking (again) that I would never experience anything like this. I looked for my family in the stands (futile with this many people around.) I smiled at my friends and remembered that the cute boy in my life at the time was sitting in the audience. And, of course, I couldn’t resist looking up at the sky.
Everything moved in slow motion. The audience’s applause were my only signal that one speaker had finished and/or another speaker was being introduced. They just kept going…probably offering up similar platitudes to the speech I gave way back in sixth grade. “Reach for the stars, believe in yourself, this isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning,” at least that’s what I imagine they said. Honestly, though, I have no idea. Another motivational speech in one ear and out the other. But what I do know for sure is that the sky was the best shade of blue that day. The breeze was satisfying in a way that you can only appreciate when you’re wearing the color black in the heat. Joy and relief abounded in every direction. And while most of my classmates could hardly sit still, I remember thinking that I wanted to stay there forever. I regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then…although I am grateful that we didn’t have the distraction of smartphones. And just like that, it was over. The speeches stopped and real life began again…a new chapter. I threw my cap (paper fish and all) high into the afternoon sky and never bothered to retrieve it. I congratulated the eight-year old girl inside of me for accomplishing her goal of graduating college and securing her “dream” job. And just like in the movies, I had a hard time leaving that day. There were several glances back over my shoulder. Last looks.
Fast forward all these years later and I now find myself attending these same type of events. I see students waiting (some anxiously, others joyfully,) parents reacting emotionally, spectators sitting impatiently, and speakers searching for new and interesting ways to connect with the audience…to say something worthwhile and meaningful. Maybe even something unforgettable. Having done some public speaking in my adult life, I feel a little guilty when someone approaches the podium. Guilty that I didn’t pay attention back then…knowing all too well how much work actually goes into preparing such a speech. Yet today I finally realize that maybe the graduation messages of my yesterdays were not actually lost on me. Perhaps, delivered in that moment was the exact message that I needed to hear after all. When the speaker took his/her place at the podium I was invited to sit, to pause, to reflect and to savor. It was an opportunity to take a deep breath and fully absorb the moment…each participant processing the occasion in their own unique way. Graduation and commencement, (often used interchangeably) in truth speak to two different ideas…one an ending and the other a beginning. And I can’t think of a better way to mark the importance of that moment than by fully taking in the present.
Listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom. Job 33:33
Memories are timeless treasures of the heart. -Unknown
Sometimes I think that we open some of our very best Christmas presents long before the big day arrives. For me, there’s something special about unpacking all the Christmas décor, ornaments, and trinkets that I’ve collected through the years. Every December we lug the boxes upstairs and like little kids open each with a sense of excitement–kind of like running in to an old friend or finding something that was once lost. My kids (even as a tween and teen) exclaim, “Remember this!” Or they’ll question me, “Why did you save that?” and “How long has this been in the family?” One of the things that touches my heart most are the tales behind these treasured keepsakes which leads me to my favorite comment, “Tell me the story about this one!” Then I get to share the story behind baby ornaments, school crafts from days gone by, or the Hallmark Yoda figurine that adorns the tree every year. It was actually this ornament (and all the hub bub about the recently released Star Wars movie) that led me to write this post as I chronicle three of my favorite Spencer Family Christmas stories.
Let me begin with the FACT that my mother-in-law is far more popular than I could ever hope to be. I think even complete strangers would nominate her homecoming queen should we ever find ourselves in high school again (despite the fact that we graduated in different decades and states!) From hello, people just love her. Actually, you don’t even have to speak to her to like her…I’ve witnessed countless strangers ask her for directions, information, and just start chatting with her without any prompting whatsoever. She just has one of those faces that says, “Let’s be lifelong friends.” It’s a rare gift (my husband has the same one,) and I just can’t help but sit back and marvel. This sort of thing comes in handy when you shop at Hobby Lobby…or at least that’s what I’ve concluded whenever Karen is around. And Hobby Lobby is the scene for this Christmas memory.
My daughter Casey was just a little, bitty thing at the time…probably 3 or 4ish. She didn’t mind sitting in shopping carts especially if grandma was “driving.” While I can’t recall why we went into Hobby Lobby that day (although I don’t think one has to have a specific reason for going into Hobby Lobby because who doesn’t LOVE that store?) There we were in the fabric section when my mother-in-law spotted these cute, matching, mother/daughter gingerbread aprons. Displayed on mannequins for all to see, they were just perfect for Casey and I. Karen pointed them out to me…suggesting that we really needed to have THOSE Christmas aprons. I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because the Christmas apron pattern was situated in such a way as to suggest that you had to make the aprons yourself (this is a craft store after all.) I believe Karen’s response was, “Nonsense,” as she took them off the mannequin and put them in the cart. We continued our shopping and eventually landed at the check out.
I have to admit that it was pretty funny watching the cashier search the aprons for the price tag, but what was even better was the look on her face when Karen explained how she got the aprons. I imagine that it’s a pretty rare occurrence when someone takes a sample product off a mannequin and then proceeds to try to purchase it. The cashier explained that sample items are not for sale…they are SAMPLE items. Karen wasn’t deterred in the least. She asked the cashier to get someone from the fabric section to come to the check out stand so we could discuss the purchase of THOSE aprons further. I’m pretty sure at this point we were holding up the check out line, but still we waited. Finally, someone came up. She agreed with the cashier that the aprons were samples and not for sale which led to a conversation about what actually happens to the samples at Hobby Lobby when they are no longer needed. It was interesting…typically the items are returned to the person who made them, stowed away for display at a later date, or just given away to someone who works at the store. Karen reiterated that she would like to purchase them as a Christmas gift for me and my daughter…telling about her visit to Kansas from California, my love for baking, and Casey’s fondness for Rachael Ray (but that’s another blog.) Clearly, Karen had won over the woman from the sewing department and a few seconds later we were exchanging phone numbers and my mother-in-law had arranged for the store to call me (after Christmas) to pick up the aprons when they were no longer needed. They agreed the aprons could be purchased for $5 each and all I had to do was keep a hold of this little piece of paper until the pick up date arrived. SCORE!
In the back of my mind, I wondered if they would really call. I mean, Karen had already returned to California, no money had changed hands at that point, and the note from the store (scrawled on the back of a receipt) hardly seemed like a binding contract. Yet, there it was…a few days after Christmas…a message on the phone from Hobby Lobby saying that I could come and pick up the aprons from the sewing counter in the store. Well, Casey and I hot-footed it over there and sure enough, THOSE Christmas aprons were right there waiting. They were even cuter than I remembered and Casey was so excited! We proceeded to the check out full of smiles…and then….
The cashier (the same one from our previous visit to the store with Karen,) looked at the aprons and frowned. FROWNED. She looked at me said, “You can’t have these.” I was taken aback as she explained that she couldn’t possibly sell these aprons to me because the sweetest woman from California had come to the store before Christmas and she wanted to buy them for her granddaughter and daughter-in-law. She repeated the whole encounter to me and I couldn’t help but laugh…which threw her off a bit. I pulled out the little note and told her that I was with Karen that day. I wish I could have captured her smile! She was so delighted that we were going to have THOSE aprons after all! She said she remembered my mother-in-law very well and although she didn’t recognize me (surprise?) she didn’t think she had the heart to sell them to anybody else after meeting Karen that December day. Karen had used her “gift” to secure a truly, special gift for Casey and I.
Every year at Christmas time we pull THOSE aprons out–our cookie baking wouldn’t be the same without them! This year when Casey put hers on we realized just how tiny the apron really is. Casey is 10 now and while the apron still fits it’s clear to see that she’s not a preschooler any more, but that same sweet smile spreads across her face when she wears it. THOSE Christmas aprons have become a part of our family’s Christmas tradition and I love to tell the story.
It is in the kitchen where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans the generations. -unknown
Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 2: Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala
Bells will be ringing—the glad, glad news…oh what a Christmas to have the blues….
Something has been askew this Christmas. I was sort of afraid to admit it until now since I proclaim this to be my favorite time of year. It’s not that I’m without a loved one, it’s not that I have an insurmountable list of problems, worries or fears. I’ve been trying to tell myself that it’s just the weather, but it sort of snowed the other day and that didn’t squelch the icky feeling.
I think if I’m really honest, I’ve missed Christmas–not in the “longing for” sense of the word, but more the “missed out” connotation of the word. It’s a horrible feeling since Christmas is still two days away. The dreadful feeling gave itself a name today–“B” Christmas, as in plan B. (Remember that feeling in high school when you felt compelled to choose a B school, just in case you didn’t get into your college of choice or the time when you had to settle for your second favorite prom dress because your “friend” already snagged the one you were eyeballing!) You know it’s not a bad thing…but it doesn’t feel all that great either.
I’ve been trying to hash out what went wrong…you know, analyze the variables and figure out what was different this year than in Christmas’ past. Nerdy, but that’s how I work. So, here’s what I’ve come up with: the season actually began too early with Christmas cookies in October, followed by an unusually busy baking season, Halloween (the unofficial start to Christmas) came and went too quickly (and I didn’t take the kids trick-or-treating nor did we visit any pumpkin patches), outside commitments were plentiful, time-consuming and pressing (basketball practices, extra long soccer season, music concerts and church obligations), Thanksgiving was very structured and passed in a blink (I was super intentional this year about being grateful and in the moment…maybe too focused?), I planned too many homemade/handmade gift projects and of course, the mother of all sins…I stayed up way too late trying to make it all PERFECT! I am guilty of trying to cram 48 hours into 24 hour days…but who isn’t?
In the end I paid for all of it. I was tired, irritable, a time tyrant. I spent all my waking hours in the kitchen and/or at the computer. I planned each day out for maximum productivity and left out any creative and spontaneous time for fun. Look, I’m not completely crazy…I had moments of being an on-the-ball mother, wife, church volunteer, and baker. There were occasional moments to pause, but not enough moments to reflect or savor. There were too many times I thought I wouldn’t get it all done, panic-stricken times when I was certain it wouldn’t come together, and way too many instances where I wondered why I had taken on so much followed by numerous vows to NEVER do any of this again! I hate that the most. The cold, hard fact is that I created this problem for myself. If I had the Christmas blues I was the one standing there with sapphire color paint under my nails, smeared across my cheek and splotched all over my clothes.
In this “smurf-like” state I didn’t have many options–so I did what people with the blues generally do, I cried. And wouldn’t you know it, I finally felt better. It reminded me so much of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It’s filled with good intentions, projects and purpose. Linus even recites scripture to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown wants to be the director, the leader that the Peanuts gang is looking for. He wants to be the guy who’s going to make this Christmas special. He doesn’t just take on this project for the benefit of those in the Christmas program, he takes it on to better himself…because he believes this venture will raise his Christmas spirit. Yet, despite his best efforts we all remember the part where Charlie Brown walks out–dejected, sad, depressed and dispirited after he is ridiculed for choosing a tiny, sad excuse for a tree.
But here’s the best part: It seems like out of nowhere everyone seems to get it. The Peanuts gang suddenly see the tree in a new light! They find that part of themselves that connects with the heart of Christmas. It happens in a blink and without reason and in that cheesy-manner that only comes from 1960’s Christmas specials, but it happens. I don’t know if the show’s creators would ever say it, but I think that’s the moment when God stepped in. And in my very own Charlie Brown Christmas special (starring ME!) after those sad, blues-filled tears fell, God stepped in for me as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a 1960’s Christmas special by any stretch of the imagination. It didn’t happen in an instant, but it did happen. Slowly the heart of Christmas filled my spirit and the holy day that I love so much, the season I call my favorite…started to come back to me.
As I finish up this blog it’s now the day after Christmas. My eyes tear up at the thought of this joyous Christmas 2012 that I almost missed out on. I thank God for the opportunity to worship and celebrate His Son’s birth on Christmas Eve with an unburdened heart. I rejoice in spending Christmas day with my husband and children and without any agenda…in fact, we all stayed in our pajamas ALL DAY. I am overjoyed to say that I consider this Christmas a blessing. And while my house is a disaster, the pine needles are piling up under the tree like sand, and I’m staring down at least several days worth of Christmas decor to put away, I finally feel content. I’m still listening to Christmas music. My husband asked me how long I planned to keep playing it and I didn’t have an answer–I still have a lot of Christmas to make up for.
Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.” ― Peg Bracken
I won’t claim to be a big time Beatles fan. Don’t get me wrong. They’re GREAT! I love a lot of their songs and if I was around during their heyday, I would probably be among the throngs of screaming girls hanging on their every word, buying posters and otherwise going ga-ga for them. So, obviously, I think a lot of the Beatles. Still, I don’t own any of their albums or CDs and I don’t know all the lyrics to any one of their songs. But, there is one ditty that I just adore–Hey Jude!
I probably first heard the song as a kid in passing. I imagine that I came across it in somebody’s parent’s album stash. Still, not much of a blip on my music radar. My next encounter with the Beatles was fleeting. I’m sure I saw someone on campus wearing a t-shirt and thought to myself, “Oh, yeah. I like the Beatles…cool.” I’d hum a few songs here and there. And at one point I thought about buying one of their CD’s at the local music store, but the new SneakerPimps release won out…a consequence of being a broke college kid and having to make tough financial choices. So the Beatles went by the wayside and I moved on with my life, but this was college and some things never die.
The Beatles resurfaced again a little later when I became acquainted with college radio. You know how it goes, one DJ likes 80s Punk, someone else likes Big Band, there’s always a girl whose show revolves around man-hating, angsty girl bands (one of my faves), and the list goes on and on. Basically, anyone can get a show. Thus one mild-manner fellow played the Beatles and I loved it. For the most part it had loads of elements to it—fun and poppy early stuff, catchy numbers that quickly become brainworms, ridiculous karaoke-type songs (Yellow Submarine anyone?), and later more thoughtful ballads. Who couldn’t find something to love in such a varied set!
All of this brings me to Hey Jude.
Senior year in college. Just when you’ve gotten used to the college lifestyle (and all the perks that come with it), you suddenly realize that all good things come to an end. As the cliché goes, “there’s a reason and season for everything under the sun.” It was inevitable. And while most of my crew would extend their college plan an extra semester or go on to work on a master’s degree, I was on course to graduate in the spring. It was all part of my super strict, no room for errors, by the book, four-year college plan. Sure, many tried to get me to stay in our little bubble…”Go an extra semester, minor in Spanish, go to grad school,” they all said. But as much as I loved them and loved that life, I knew my time was done. So in January while celebrating a birthday at our favorite hangout, Louise’s Bar Downtown, I strolled over to the jukebox to pick out the last song of the night. I had stood at this jukebox before. I knew the song choices and for nearly two years I had always picked the same song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka…well worth the quarters I sunk into the machine. (SIDEBAR: I really do like that song. It reminds me of peanut butter milk shakes, holding hands, and simpler times. However, amongst a college crowd, it always garnered groans and head turns…which made the song extra fun for me!) But this song was going to be THE last song of the night. It had to be special. We were here to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, the start of my last semester in college and CLOSE DOWN THE BAR. Obviously, the pressure was on! So I dropped two quarters and selected Hey Jude and never looked back.
That semester whenever we all got together, it had to be Louise’s, we had to CLOSE DOWN THE BAR, and we had to listen to Hey Jude. It became for us the exclamation point at the end the evening. It had to be the song we sang or hummed walking out the door. It had to carry us home. And it always did.
On graduation night we ended up at Louise’s–where else, right? My dear friend (and roommate) had a roll of quarters and waltzed me over to the jukebox. She said that tonight we were CLOSING DOWN THE BAR with $10 worth of Hey Jude. I couldn’t think of a better parting gift. We made the selections and walked away. About an hour into the repetitive Hey Jude track, the bartender kicked us out. Apparently, the crowd was a little upset at what they considered our buzz kill music. We were escorted out that night (the first and last time that has ever happened to me), but we had the biggest grins on our faces.
I left town two days later to a new job, a new town and a new state. There I found new friends, my future husband, and a reawakening to faith. Hey Jude and I would occasionally cross paths during the years and my mind would wander back to those days. But recently my ten-year old son came home from school with a project that brought the Beatles back into focus. Together we researched the band, their history, their ride to fame, and their music. Hey Jude walked back into my life. After a particularly long day, with the kids finally in bed and a disastrous kitchen mess waiting for me, I searched YouTube for Hey Jude. I played it over and over! In the quiet of that night, as I was getting ready to CLOSE DOWN my kitchen, I played it just one more time–for me. It is the perfect way to cap off an evening and I finally know why…Hey Jude is soothing enough to change the course of a night, thoughtful enough to make you appreciate everything going on around you, profound enough to wake you up to life’s blessings, and long enough (7 minutes) that when it’s finally done, you’re really ready to say goodnight.
Take a sad song and make it better. –Hey Jude by the Beatles